Humans reflect on God. We think thoughts about God and the nature of reality. That’s what theology is. Sometimes it is good theology in that we have thought through it well and grounded our thought in Scripture and the teachings of the church. Other times it is bad theology because we haven’t thought through things, haven’t grounded our thoughts in Scripture and the teachings of the church. Worst of all is when we’ve read the Bible poorly and have come to bad conclusions that we think are right and good. It is hard to receive correction when we’re convinced we’re already correct.
Everyone already has a theology just like everyone has a liver. We study livers to understand how they are functioning versus how they should function. Same with theology. And just as your liver filters your blood, the liquid keeping you alive, your theology filters all that you say and do. Most people have two theologies, the one they claim to have (the one they think they should have or that others expect them to have), and then the one they actually have, the one that lies at the root of how they actually live their lives. You might call this a personal ethic. And you might say I’m conflating theology and ethics. I am. It’s intentional. I’m convinced they are inseparable.
People think theology is impractical because they’re usually only familiar with pretend theology. If we stop with theology being some mental exercise, we’re only talking about that first theology everyone has, that claim-theology, that pretend theology. Theology of that sort is completely impractical. Only words and talk. All hat, no cattle. But if we can press down and be honest with ourselves and honest about our real theology, what we think about the true nature of all things as the logic that animates our choices and actions, that theology is altogether practical. We have to do the hard work of thinking and discerning our way all the way down to our real theologies, the real life-filters that govern our lives, in order for theology to be practical, to be real, and to actually be theology at all.